David Bowie was a pop superstar singer who wrote and sang about science-fiction, space travel, and people who did not exist. He was an inspiration to people who did not fit in with society by turning himself into a chameleon who reinvented himself every few years to appear on stage as a different character. He sold more than 140 million records. In his native England, he was awarded nine Platinum album certifications, eleven Gold and eight Silver, and in the US, five Platinum and seven Gold certifications. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
This week, on January 10, 2016, he died of liver cancer just two days after his 69th birthday. Popular musicians have lifestyles laden with risk factors for liver cancer, heart attacks and other causes of premature death: drugs, heavy smoking, alcohol, and crazy schedules that make it impossible to eat healthfully, exercise or sleep regularly.
David Robert Jones was born in South London to a father who was an electrician and a mother who was a waitress. In grade school, he fought with classmates and was an “adequate” member of the school choir. At age nine he started to play the ukulele and piano and at age 15 he took up the saxophone and joined a band. He eventually learned to play guitar, keyboards, harmonica, saxophone, stylophone, viola, cello, koto, thumb piano, drums, and percussion.
He went to a technical high school for students who planned to work in the trades. There he found a mentor and friends who led him into a musical career. He joined one band after another because he wasn’t getting instant success. He changed his name to David Bowie because he did not want to be confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees, naming himself after Jim Bowie, the 19th-century American frontiersman with a famous knife.
Drugs: The Pressure Was Too Much for Him
He told reporters that he started to use drugs as a teenager in the ’60s as he started to make a name for himself as a musician. As he developed into a rock superstar singer, he was under tremendous pressure all the time. When he wasn’t writing or recording, he was touring the world, sleeping in buses or a different hotel room every night, spending his days traveling, and working most nights. He became dependent on cocaine after he became a star with the albums Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. His wife, Angie Barnett, also became addicted. Next he became dependent on heroin, which together with cocaine and alcohol, caused him to lose a lot of weight.
In a television interview he told the reporter that “by the mid-70s I was so out of my gourd that it was nigh on impossible for me to function in any rational way.” He stated that he had unbelievable holes in his memory so that he could not remember the words to his songs and had to read the words from a prompter. He was criticized for making pro-Fascist statements, but later apologized for them, blaming mental instability caused by his drug problems and saying, “I was out of my mind, totally, completely crazed.” In the mid-1980s he stopped using drugs and alcohol but continued to chain smoke for another 20 years.
In 1972, Bowie declared himself gay in an interview with Michael Watts. However, that is unlikely; at the most he was bisexual and we don’t even know if that is true. He later explained his announcement of homosexuality as being driven more by a desire to shock people and “a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being.”
He certainly was interested in women. In 1967 at age 20, he took dancing lessons and was picked to dance with Hermione Farthingale in a BBC play called The Pistol Shot. They dated and lived together and she played acoustic guitar in his band, but they broke up two years later. In 1969 he met Angela Barnett and they married a year later. They had a son together, Duncan, who became a film director. They divorced in 1980, when Bowie was 33. In 1992, he married Somali-American model Iman in a private ceremony in Lausanne. They had a daughter, Alexandria, in 2000 and remained married and devoted to each other until his death.
His Heart Attacks and Liver Cancer
In 2004 at age 57, he developed severe chest pain while performing in Germany. He was first told that he had a pinched nerve in his shoulder, but he really had had a heart attack that required emergency angioplasty to open up the blocked artery. He cancelled the remaining schedule of his tour and was rarely seen in public after that. His last live performance was at the Liverocks concert in 2006. Notice his hand bandaged for intravenous infusions and his slippers. In 2007, he scheduled a concert in New York but cancelled it.
He was reported to have had at least six heart attacks. In 2014, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and eighteen months later he died of that disease, two days after his album Blackstar was released on his 69th birthday.
Risk Factors for Heart Attacks and Liver Cancer
Anything that causes inflammation can cause both heart attacks and many different cancers. Your immunity is good because it helps to protect you from germs invading your body and killing you. However, if your immunity stays on all the time, the same cells and chemicals that attach to and kill germs attack your own cells to damage the inner linings of blood vessels to cause heart attacks and your DNA genetic material in cells to cause cancers.
Bowie markedly increased his risk for suffering multiple heart attacks and liver cancer by:
• taking drugs such as heroin and cocaine for at least 20 years
• smoking most of his life
• drinking alcohol heavily
• probably eating an unhealthful diet (too much sugar, red meat, processed meat and fried foods and not enough fruits and vegetables)
• possibly acquiring infections from multiple sexual partners
• having irregular sleeping patterns associated with continuous night performances and constant travel.
I have not seen Bowie’s medical records and I have no evidence that he ever had any of the infections that cause liver damage and are associated with liver cancer. Just last week I reported on the death of Natalie Cole from complications of Hepatitis C.
Incidence of Liver Cancer
Every year, more than 35,000 North Americans develop liver cancer and 25,000 die from it. Less than 20 percent of liver cancer patients are alive five years after being diagnosed. If the cancer is diagnosed after it has spread to surrounding tissues, the five-year survival rate drops to 11 percent. Liver cancer is associated with:
• Many chronic infections including Hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses
• Cirrhosis, a severe form of liver damage
• Fat stored in the liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)
• Aflatoxins (poisons produced by molds that grow in certain stored crops)
• Exposure to some types of toxic chemicals
• Drinking excess alcohol
Checking for Hepatitis C
The U.S. Communicable Disease Center recommends that you get blood tests for hepatitis C if:
• You were born from 1945 through 1965 (most people in the US who are infected with hepatitis C were born in these years)
• You have ever injected drugs
• You took medicine for a blood clotting problem before 1987
• You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 (when blood and organs started being screened for HCV)
• You are on long-term hemodialysis
• You are infected with HIV
If you get hepatitis C, you may not know that you have it until 20 or more years later. Even if you stop using drugs, you still are at increased risk for all of the horrible side effects of this virus. If there is any chance that you may have hepatitis C, get tested because it is now a curable disease.
January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016